Times certainly do change, whether time feels like it is going quickly or slowly. Twenty years ago today, Open for Business went live. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. It’s been an interesting and wonderful journey.
We didn’t start out as a magazine of “ideas, culture and technology for the business of life.” When I first put together OFB, the idea was to have a site that explored Linux and other open source technology in a way that helped people transition away from Microsoft Windows. Our first motto was “the Open Source Migration Guide.”
Ironically for a publication, writing content for it was more a means to an end than my actual goal at the start: I put the site together as much to explore building it as anything else. The subject matter, too, was inspired by the joy of fiddling with something — emergent tech — to see what it could do. Growing up, my grandpa was always building or fixing or planning something and, in a sense, projects like OFB were me following suit. The weeks leading up to the launch were a fun blur of planning and hacking away at the code that would bring it to life.
I’d like to think my grandpa would have been excited to see something I made abuzz with activity and, indeed, this site quickly was. These anniversaries are always bittersweet in that regard; he passed just hours after the first iteration of these pages went live.
The site drew a surprising amount of traffic with our first batch of stories — largely a series of links to materials around other likeminded sites — and within a few months it wasn’t just me, but a wonderful medley of writers together. Eight months into publication, we announced a move towards more original content and a motto, “the Open Source Migration Journal,” to match.
I remain so pleased with the reporting we put forth in those early years amidst an Internet full of likewise fresh-faced blogs and e-zines. All of us suddenly could garner the attention only major publications previously could and OFB was in the thick of it.
For a period of time, we formed an alliance with other small, independent sites covering Open Source technology to amplify our voice. We called it LinuxDailyNews. It makes me all the more grateful to be writing under the deep blue OFB flag today when I note that all of our fantastic partner sites in that endeavor have now been either swallowed up or shut down.
I can’t help but look back a bit wistfully at those days: explosive growth here, paired with an Internet that was far more wild and decentralized, exploring fantastic ideas not just how to push out clickbait. (Yesterday’s “disaster” otherwise known as a six-hour Facebook outage shows how much we’ve regressed to centralized control since then. Ahem.)
Those formative years for OFB were at least as formative for me, too.
In the wonderful, open field that is the Internet, I was able to found this magazine while finishing up high school — not a likely possibility pre-Internet — and some of OFB’s most read reviews and biggest breaking news stories appeared on these pages as I worked my way through college. I started my degree intending to plunge fully into the IT work that was described on these pages, but fell in love with the craft of writing itself as I wrote here. By our fifth anniversary, I was weeks away from a degree in English Literature, a major change in life direction nudged by this publication.
The team of us who were writing Open for Business when it passed the five year mark had diverse interests well beyond just Open Source and so we set out with a new look and a revitalized purpose. We would still be a site that enjoyed exploring the world of technology (and remain so today), but we would also explore politics, faith, sports and other topics.
Down that path, one of my long time friends (and collaborator from the LinuxDailyNews effort), Dennis E. Powell, joined us directly in 2008 as a contributor and self-styled “crackpot-at-large” to OFB. Dennis had a long established reputation as a fantastic journalist well before he spent time as the proprietor of an Open Source news site and, when he appeared here, he started regaling our readership with his wit and wisdom over a span of topics that showcased the breadth of his craft. Those early “Views from Mudsock Heights” served to further broaden us into the general interest magazine we are today.
My story and OFB’s intertwine further in the years after I graduated college. I don’t think falling into the writer’s world here and coming to cherish the pen was a coincidence. The swap of degree programs I leapt into in part because of these pages provided a better launchpad for where I believe God had been nudging me all along: ministry. English and philosophical studies provide a lot of tools for future theological work that my earlier “Management Information Systems” trajectory would not have.
While I continued to write here, I started seminary in 2007. It wasn’t long into that program that I met our esteemed associate editor (and eventual podcast co-host), Jason Kettinger, who was in the same seminary program. He and I shared an eclectic mix of interests, including a love for music, political debate — perhaps to the chagrin of our classmates who walked by us as we dug into the nitty gritty of the Beltway after classes — and, of course, the Bible.
They, along with long time contributors Ed Hurst and Eduardo Sánchez filled these pages with so many wonderful words that carried us through that era and past OFB’s tenth anniversary. Ed touched on the flavor of OFB that still rings quite true in a piece he wrote weeks after that anniversary.
The early, tech-heavy days often feel like almost a lifetime unto themselves for this publication in my mind, perhaps because it was so overwhelming to watch OFB take shape. However, it was during the second era of 2006-2012 that the majority of words thus far published in Open for Business would be forged.
OFB would carry on just as it had for a year and a half further, or thereabouts, past the Tin Anniversary. And then things changed. I was in the midst of PhD classwork and just beginning a five year adventure as a professor. Meanwhile, I was a newly ordained a pastor, too, and had started what was supposed to be a very part time position serving a church that suddenly became very-not-part-time when all three other pastors moved on to other positions.
Something had to give.
The magazine that had so symbiotically grown with me fell victim by virtue of being the only thing that could go. A final piece from Ed was published here in January 2013.
In the years that passed after that, I would occasionally come to the site — the lights were still on like those that often flicker in a long abandoned retail store while it awaits a new tenant — and mourn that the OFB era had passed. This publication had grown with me and then it just stopped.
A funny thing happened on the way to 2020, though. After flirting with the idea of reviving the journal of ideas, culture and technology for the business of life in late 2019, a sudden change of jobs and a pandemic that brought so much to a screeching halt provided the opportunity to reevaluate whether “the era” had really passed.
I’m overjoyed that it hadn’t really. When I shared the idea of reanimating the blue sphered magazine, my long time compatriots Jason and Dennis surprised me by coming back without hesitation.
And so it is, that as we reach this twentieth anniversary, OFB has been rolling along stronger than ever for the better part of a year and a half, full of amazing content penned by dear friends I feel blessed to write alongside of. (And record with, too, given that Jason and I have 12-and-counting episodes of a companion podcast.)
More than ever, this site is a labor of love. We write here because we love to explore ideas, culture and technology for the business of life and we love to share that exploration with you. This site that has personally meant so much to me these last two decades is one I hope has and will continue to mean a lot to you as you go about “the business of life” just as we are.
Let’s keep exploring together. Maybe how things get published will look a bit different when we celebrate another 20 years come 2041, but God willing, we’ll still be here and I cannot wait to share the journey with you.